The Japanese word ‘kaizen’ simply means change for the better. It refers to any improvement, in the same notion as the English word ‘improvement.’ The use of the Kaizen model for continuous improvement demands that both flow and process Kaizens are used. Process Kaizens are used more often to focus workers on continuous small improvements.
Building With a Kaizen Philosophy
Kaizen must be seen as a daily process, the purpose of which goes beyond simple productivity improvement. When you implement Kaizen properly, it must be seen as part action plan and part philosophy. When you consider Kaizen as an action plan, it is about organizing events focused on improving specific areas within the company. Those events involve teams of employees at all levels. There must be a specific focus involving employees directly involved in production or action.
When you look at Kaizen as a philosophy, it is about building a culture where all employees are actively participating in both suggesting and implementing improvements. In organizations that are truly Lean, it becomes a natural way of thinking for both managers and production employees.
Kaizen is most commonly associated with manufacturing operations, but has also been highly successful in non-manufacturing environments, such as healthcare. The format for Kaizen can be individual, suggestion system, small group, or large group. It is usually a local improvement within a workstation or local area and involves a small group in improving their own work environment and productivity. Kaizen on a broad scale generates total quality management, and frees efforts through improving productivity.
While Kaizen usually delivers small improvements, the culture or philosophy of continual aligned small improvements and standardization yields large results in terms of overall improvement in productivity. Kaizen methodology includes making changes and monitoring results, then adjusting.
Kaizen philosophy is perfectly partnered with standardized work process. Standardized work embraces the best practices for a process, and Kaizen identifies improvements for those processes. People at all levels of an organization participate in Kaizen. From the CEO down to the most entry level staff, working in all functions, as well as external stakeholders must engage in both the Kaizen philosophy and process of Kaizen. Kaizen philosophy without process and process without Kaizen philosophy will not achieve the optimal results an organization desires for continuous quality improvement.